Abstract

This article offers a literary and cultural studies approach to sexual citizenship and belonging through a reading of the coming-of-age genre. Coming-of-age narratives, a primary mode of a womanist Caribbean diaspora poetics, offer fruitful ground for an analysis of the relation of the individual and the state in their depictions of a protagonist's growing into sociocultural structures and internalizing normative frames of citizenship. The two novels investigated here, Makeda Silvera's The Heart Does Not Bend (2002) and Joan Riley's The Unbelonging (1985), reveal the interconnectedness of citizenship, sexuality, race, and bodily integrity in the Jamaican context, while also critically reflecting on those circumstances under which access to sexual rights is either granted or denied. I argue that a focus on women's sexual citizenship in literature expands formal notions of citizenship, taking into equal account racism, sexism, classism, and uneven capital distribution as intersecting categories affecting the practice of acting as and the status of being a citizen. Applying to contemporary Caribbean women's writing the analytical category of sexual citizenship thus engenders a feminist, politically engaged reading of these texts that not only recovers silenced stories of sexual violence and racialized oppression, but also foregrounds women's embodied subjectivity.

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